My tryst with Tumblr lasted a year and began the way that many loves do- with a feeling of “good G-d, I cannot get enough of you” that slowly faded into a sort of general conviviality which then slowly faded into my finding everything that once was “cute” or “endearing” hellaciously and unacceptably irritating.
Tumblr keeps calling, and I keep ignoring her.
My affair with Twitter was even shorter lived. We said a few pithy things to one another and I found myself reviled by her charms and flattery. All of my friends told me that she was beautiful and that we were made for one another- and yet somehow, I never fully found myself believing it.
We called it off after a few dates. Neither of us has given the other so much as a wave.
I will admit to a torrid affair with Instagram. It is the perfect storm for me. She’s everything I want and nothing I have to commit to. Sure, I buy her pretty things every once in a while (She loves Afterlight) but she never really asks anything of me- ever. She never asks me where I am or what I’m up to. She’s happy to see me when I decide to visit and perfectly fine on her own as well.
I know it’ll never last, but for now, it’s really good.
Facebook has been friend-zoned for years now. She keeps trying to encroach upon my life- asking for my phone number and wondering where I am or who I’m with or where I’m going and I just cannot bring myself to give in to her. Oh sure, she’s great and I like her well enough. She’s just about everything that a guy could ask for and yet, there’s that sick feeling when she’s around because she’s trying too damned hard. She wants to be everything to everyone and I find it disgusting. Why doesn’t she have a discernible personality of her own? Where are her opinions? Why does she seem to dress just like everyone else?
Suffice it to say that I will never tell Facebook where I work. Ever.
My relationship with iPhone began innocently enough and, while not flowering into everlasting love, the relationship has been favorable enough that I haven’t been tempted to run forever. It’s a convenient marriage, if not a happy one. Something like the Bennets, I would imagine. You see, it began when Blackberry started showing signs of madness. She couldn’t remember where she was or why she had logged into a particular application. She could no longer remember what was email and what were regular phone contacts. She couldn’t keep her folders together.
I knew that it was ending, but I had committed to her and I knew that I would see the thing through- even if I eventually had to put her in assisted living. Luckily, it never came to such a thing. She went gracefully off to the big wall charger in the sky one night while I was asleep. When I woke up the next morning and she wouldn’t respond, I knew that I had to move on. She wouldn’t want me to grieve for long.
Thus, my tepid relationship with iPhone.
We were set up by a guy wearing several holsters for devices on his belt. I felt sorry for him, truth be told. Not just because holsters are in such impossibly hideous taste but because the man was so… tethered.
The poor bastard was tied down, you see.
As I walked out of the store that afternoon in November with my new companion, I told her very clearly that no such thing would ever occur with a guy like me. She could dream if she wanted to and could scheme if she really needed to, but she could rest assured that she would never tie me down no matter what she did- baby iPhone, iPhone house and mortgage, et cetera.
I wear the pants, you see. I leave her in the car when I am going places. If we are in public together, I set her on the table with her screen facing down so that people can clearly see that I am wherever I am to be there. My iPhone will not distract me, nor dissuade my attentions from anything. I will not check it under the table or in secret when others aren’t looking, nor will I check status updates or read reviews of restaurants while we are waiting for a meal (in the damned place) or when the conversation lags.
I cannot be tied down. I am a bird without a use for land, thank you.
After all, my notifications for all five of my applications are set to OFF. I have a firm stance and I have followed it resolutely: alerts are allowable for texts, emails and phone calls ONLY and I do not, under any circumstances, remain logged in to anything- whether Facebook or Instagram (two of my five apps- the others being NPR News, Afterlight and Mailbox). Woe to many of my friends and acquaintances who have been bullied into submission and who cannot enjoy a simple conversation or meal without checking their companions. Woe to those constantly belittled by those red circles with little white numbers inside that serve as reminders only of their failures. The numbers that berate them brazenly every time they unlock their phone. The hags and nags that shout only: “you are behind and you will never catch up and you will never please me”.
That is most certainly not me.
Or at least, that’s what I thought.
I have sent my companion back to Apple twice in the last several weeks. There are glitches, you see. A backlight that fails to light while in the midst of usage. Text messages that go unreceived. WiFi that cannot be accessed and other seemingly minor, inconsequential details that, added together, create a phone that- supposedly so great for everything- is good for nothing.
So, I sent it in according to Apple and its requests. I did not suspect even for a moment that I would miss the thing. I got into the car*- having just sent it off!- and was struck feeling as though something was missing. Something was not right. A Pavlovian instinct, if you will. An empty feeling in the pit of my stomach- one whose origin was a mystery to me. I sat in the driver’s seat of my car with the keys in the ignition and I looked about the cabin, searching for what my subconscious was seeking. Then, it struck me. That was the moment when I realized that I am not, as I would LOVE to believe, immune to connectivity.
I was searching for my phone to check my email as that is what I am used to doing. I leave the phone in the car, do whatever business I have and, when I return to my vehicle, I instinctively check for emails. Of course, without a phone, I would have to wait until I returned home which was some seven minutes away!
Oh! G-d! And no texts either!
My companion was returned to me in two days’ time having been undiagnosable. That is to say that Apple “could not recreate any of the solicited issues and so we assume that they have been remedied by a return to factory settings”. It was shipped via FedEx Priority Overnight as Apple is aware of how difficult life might be for those of us who have indeed become connected and dependent.
I do not say dependent lightly.
It had been no more than three hours before that I shipped my phone off when I realized that I had plans with my younger sister at a particular time and location that very afternoon. What might I do if plans changed? What if I was late? How might I let her know? Would she wait? Would I? What if we mixed up locations? How would she reach me to let me know? What if we got lost? How might I access Google Maps (that is, were I to have such an app- I do not, as it happens)?
Oh! G-d! And no texts!
I calmed myself down. After all, I am a child of the nineties. I remember doing things such as meeting up with friends quite well without cell phones. If there was a hitch, so be it. We waited. If something were to come up derailing my plans with my sister, I would wait.
Which is exactly what happened. She got out of work late and I waited at our meeting spot for an hour before she arrived. Luckily, I had a book.
As I write to you now, my phone is on a FedEx truck and due for arrival in another hour or so. I’ve been without for merely a few days’ time. I’ve done better this time around, I’m pleased to say. I’ve relearned how to use an analog alarm clock that does not have a touch screen. I’ve memorized my bank balance as opposed to constantly checking online. News can wait until the evening time, as can interesting tidbits from NPR as the day goes by. I’ve forgone taking pictures of several beautiful hikes that I’ve recently taken and as such, can see them more clearly in my mind’s eye than I might otherwise.
What I’m trying to say is that I’m unsure of how excited I am to get it back. Oh, I’m sure it will be fine with this new phone. It’ll be shiny and new (or, more than likely, refurbished) and I’ll install the backup I’ve saved on my iTunes. The cloud will get synced and my apps will have a plethora of pithy things to look at. Instagram will be chock full of new gorgeous things to see and it will be nice to have my recording app to hum new song ideas into at a moment’s notice. There are plenty of conveniences that I will undoubtedly be very pleased to have back.
While without my phone, I read a very interesting article by comic, writer, cultural critic and entrepreneur Baratunde Thurston on fastcompany about his self-imposed fast from the internet. He is easily one of the most connected men on the internet with Twitter followers in the hundreds of thousands, as well as being a prominent writer for several major news sources and one of the people at the front lines of live-journalism utilizing a variety of social medias.
While reading, two things struck me:
1. He mentioned no fewer than four applications casually that I had never heard of.
2. I am 98% less connected than he professes to be (which means that he is at least 30% more connected than he says he is) and I still feel as though I am constantly overwhelmed and at odds with my technological usage.
Take this with a grain of sanctimonious salt as I:
1. Spend anywhere between 4-8 hours a day looking at my computer screen (this does NOT include cell phone use and, while that time is reflective of a person who uses the computer to work, it also reflects the time that a person who professes to hate technology spends looking up stupid, stupid things**)
2. Own one of all of the major Apple devices- an iPod, an iPad mini, and iPhone and a Macbook Pro. This is sort of like a vegetarian hoarding bacon in the freezer.
FedEx has just arrived. I signed the phaser-looking thing and the gentleman handed me a small cardboard box which I have set next to me at the computer. The cardboard box is staring at me. An internal battle has begun. There are a few pictures that I forgot to post to Instagram before I sent my phone off. No, no, they can wait. I bet there are a few texts waiting to be answered. No, no, those can wait, too. I wonder what the new phone looks like! It looks like the old one. I want to open the box, but I don’t want to open the box.
I can’t decide which is the stronger impulse.
In a four day sabbatical from my phone, I am coming to the same conclusions that Thurston does in his article. Most notably that we are only as “tied” and connected as we want/allow ourselves to be. There is no literal “tether” to a phone or device and the world does not end because we do not have access to a particular app. We adjust when necessary. If we cannot plan on the fly via text, we plan ahead. If we cannot find the restaurant via Google maps, we ask someone on the street. We choose if we want to stare at our screens or into the teeming mass of people and places and things that make up our communities and our world. There isn’t a right or wrong here. Technology is not some collection of micro-processors and sensors and screens- it is a tool waiting to be used for whatever purposes we can dream up. For every athlete that Tweets whatever nonsense pops into his/her mind without first considering ramifications (for which there are countless examples that needn’t be rehashed here), we have a Scott Simon, the NPR anchor whose tweets during his mother’s last days were all at once heart-warming, heart-breaking, awe-inspiring and indicative of the boundless possibilities such tools make available to us all.
So perhaps I’ll open the box, but I’ll leave my phone at home.
*This happened several times over. It was not an isolated incident.
**Case in point, my brother and I spent at least a half an hour debating the best NFL uniforms and looking up photographs to prove our various points and counterpoints.